I’m not a parenting expert. I have one child and am figuring out how to raise her without messing her up too badly. My only prior experience is babysitting in high school (which I did a crap job of), working in an infant care facility (but I mainly just snuggled, fed, and changed them), and a decade as a public school teacher (with a few degrees that go along with that). I considered what some of my best students had in common: empathetic, creative, and responsible. I’m certain that all of these children had very different upbringings, but I researched different parenting methods that could help me develop those traits in my daughter and discovered a few of my favorite parenting/ education styles: Montessori, Waldorf, and RIE. If you’re interested in reading a brief overview of the styles, this is a great place to begin.
This all relates to this post because we decided to give our daughter a play space for Christmas. Trying to make intentional parenting choices, I researched numerous play spaces and decided I wanted a play space that was both mindful and respectful of my daughter’s needs, development, interests, etc. I’m going to warn that I got a little hyperlink happy in this post. Since we’re still in the planning stages, I wanted to remember key information so I linked A LOT of ideas and products.
Before creating the play area, I wrote down a list of goals that I had for the space.
- Minimalistic: I want a toy shelf with space for 1-2 toys/ manipulatives on each shelf and perhaps a few spots for boxes to hold blocks or balls. *We have more toys than will fit on the shelf, but I plan to alternate them to keep my daughter from getting overwhelmed by choice or clutter. Additionally, I like this approach as it will help me to easily see which toys spark my daughter’s curiosity or interests more.
2. Orderly: According to the Montessori philosophy, children have a “sensitive period” when they are attracted to and able to learn about something. From birth until about age 5 is a child’s sensitive period for order, but it peaks in early toddlerhood. Young children love routine and repetition, and I’d like my play space to support this sensitive period by giving a specific, predictable spot for everything.
3. Thoughtful Toy and Activity Selection: I want to be sure to include toys that develop fine motor AND gross motor skills, art and music interests, books, and open-ended items for creative play. *I only recently started researching active vs passive toys, and the argument for passive toys is so interesting to me. I had never even considered the concept before!
4. Safe, Open Space: In the RIE philosophy, children require a “YES” space where they are free to play without constantly being interrupted (often for safety concerns). It is best to keep the space relatively small (one child-proofed room or a section of one room) to help the child maintain focus and foster independent play. That being said, we also believe in allowing our daughter to discover her own boundaries and abilities. We own a Pikler Triangle that will be brought into the “YES space” when we are able to observe our daughter playing (since it can be “dangerous”). It is just one way to give our daughter an opportunity to learn how her body can move and climb all on her own!
5. Include Nature: Nature is a large part of the Waldorf philosophy, as it reveals our kinship with all living things and teaches them about the rhythm of life. We chose a play space with large, low windows so our daughter has the freedom to observe the outdoors and natural changes of the world. Her play space is also accessible for our two cats so she is able to interact and observe them. We would like to include a few small edible herb plants that she can help care for, as well, but that won’t be harmful to the cats that share the space.
6. Respectful of Parents’ and Child’s Needs: According to the Montessori philosophy, the job of a child is to play. The job of the parent is… well, we have to do a million things everyday. I like to observe my daughter as she plays, but I also need to prep our meals, pay bills online, clean the house, write blog posts (okay, that’s just for fun), etc. For this reason, we decided to put the play space (and all toy storage) in our living room, where we have already child-proofed everything, we can watch our daughter carefully, relax as a family, and close it off to the rest of the house easily.
I’m so excited to start getting everything prepared for this project! We’re still deciding if we want to have it ready for Esme on the evening of Christmas Eve so she wakes up to the new space of if we’ll set it up earlier and do a small stocking for her instead. I’ll update though!